ESTABLISHING A POVERTY LINE
MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) called for the establishment of an official poverty line in Singapore, adding that the lack of one is “both puzzling and exasperating”.
“Targeting the poor is impossible, or at least imperfect, without an official transparent benchmark,” he said.
Associate Professor Lim called for a committee, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, civil society and academia, to be set up to determine the appropriate poverty line in Singapore.
He said that thresholds for government assistance, especially ComCare, should then be pegged to this figure. At the moment, there are varying thresholds for these various schemes which Assoc Prof Lim described as “confusing”.
ComCare, which provides short- to medium-term financial aid for low-income individuals and families in need, can also be refined, he added.
For example, the current approval process can be “intrusive, onerous and demeaning”, while the payout is “modest” and often granted for an “unbearably short time”, said the opposition MP.
MP Desmond Choo (PAP-Tampines) disagreed, saying that there are inherent problems with having a single poverty line, such as the “unintended cliff effect” of excluding those who exceed the threshold or missing out on other issues faced by needy families such as ill health.
“Experience from other countries has also shown that it is hard to simplify to just one figure, and there’s a tendency for people to want to stay below that figure,” he added in his speech.
Mr Choo said while he agrees that Singapore can do better in supporting the poor, it does so by shaping its policies to give more to those who have less, as well as cater to different needs.
“An approach of providing support based on the varied needs of Singaporeans and their families might work better than a single poverty line,” he added, although he agreed that the application process for the assistance schemes can be further streamlined.
TWEAKS TO EDUCATION SYSTEM
In terms of the education system, MP Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) spoke about the negative effects of examinations and how it remains a major feature of the system, despite changes like subject-based banding.
“While subject-based banding is less rigid than streaming, it is still based on the same principle: A student has to meet a specific test score in order to study the subjects they are interested in,” he noted.
He reiterated WP’s proposal for a 10-year through-train programme from Primary 1 to Secondary 4, as an option for parents who want to bypass the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Mr Darryl David (PAP-Ang Mo Kio) similarly urged the Ministry of Education (MOE) to give Primary 6 students a final combination of coursework and PSLE scores, which he said is already practised in programmes such as the International Baccalaureate.
Meanwhile, Mr Vikram Nair (PAP-Sembawang) said it would be good to have a system that “places less emphasis on tuition”, and that Singapore should ensure all children attend preschool by making it compulsory or having strong measures in place to encourage universal attendance.